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Get Dirty To Get Healthy

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Get Dirty To Get Healthy

Remember when you were told to wash all your fruits and veggies with soap before eating them? That all germs were bad for you?  Antibiotics are used for everything from treating a common cold or a small pimple to treating a deadly blood infection.  Antibacterials have become so trendy that I recently had a friend tell me that her daughter trades the sparkly, colored little bottles of hand sanitizer at school with her friends like we did scratch 'n sniff stickers.  So, what DO all these germs do to our guts and our overall health?  

Well, the truth is, not ALL germs are bad for us.  The recent discovery of the microbiome sheds light on the multitude of beneficial bacteria and other organisms that live within our vast inner world.  They lurk in our intestines and other areas of the body where they communicate with our immune system, our brains and even our genes.  They provide a protective barrier between the gut and the rest of our body so that the food we eat as well as the toxins we consume remain in our intestines, where we process and eliminate what we need or don’t require.  Many of these microbes help us make vitamins, process food into energy, and participate in a whole host of other important functions that keep our bodies running smoothly.

Diversity is key.  The greater the diversity of these beneficial organisms, the better.  One way to get diversity, is to get dirty!  Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein explains in her book, The Dirt Cure, how exposure to beneficial bugs on the farm or in a garden helps keep kids from developing asthma, eczema and allergies.  Just think of all the time we spend telling our kids not to play in the dirt, when all the while, it might be the dirt that keeps them healthy.  
 

Another way to improve the diversity of our miniature little friends, is to understand how your dietary choices can affect them. A recent study published in the journal Science, examined an analysis of two large studies that looked at what increases the diversity of our gut microbiome, and what detrimentally decreases variance.   Here is a breakdown of some of those results:

Top things that decreased gut microbiome diversity:

1.  Medications - the most harmful ones being antibiotics and proton-pump inhibitors (used to treat heartburn).

2.  A high-calorie diet high in simple carbohydrates (such as candy, white breads, white pasta, baked sweets etc).

3.  Frequent eating - turns out that eating small meals every two hours (grazing) is not ideal for our gut microbiome.

4.  Sweetened drinks - such as soda and juices with added sugar and high fructose corn syrup

Top things that improve gut microbiome diversity:

1.  High fiber diets of whole vegetables and fruits

2.  Dark chocolate - thankfully!

3.  Fermented foods - examples: yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, kim chi

4.  Red wine

5.  Green Tea

In addition to those top things found in the research studies, here are a couple of things you can also do to improve the variety of good bugs in your gut.  

1.  Take a good quality probiotic - it should be a reputable brand, such as Integrative Therapeutics or Pure Encapsulations.  It should also have a good variety of both lactobacillus as well as bifidobacterium.  Until we have more specific data on which exact strains are helpful, this is a good rule of thumb.  

2.  Provide prebiotic food for the bacteria - prebiotics are the nondigestible food that the bacteria need to thrive.  These include fiber, oligofructose and inulin found in the skin of apples, bananas, onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, chicory root and beans.  You can also get a prebiotic supplement or try potato starch in a smoothie.  

Overall, we need to allow these little friendly organisms to flourish within us.  We certainly can’t live without ‘em!  So, eat a wholesome diet full of a variety of fruits, vegetables and beans.  Take antibiotics only when necessary.  Enjoy a cup of green tea or a glass of red wine with your dark chocolate.   And maybe, just maybe, don’t wash the dirt off the carrot you pick from your organic garden before you chop it up into your salad.  Above all, take comfort in knowing that you are supported by an entire community of organisms (though mostly unseen), all rooting for your health and well-being.  

 

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A Calm Diet For A Calm Mind

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A Calm Diet For A Calm Mind

Recently, there has been a lot of distressing worldly news.  When I hear about these distrubing events, I find that my stress response gets activated and I become reactive.  I feel powerless, sad and fearful at times.  I realize that now is the time, more than ever before, to focus on keeping a calm mind.  By doing so, I can continue to act from a place of love, peace and security instead of from a place of fear.  

Stress is anything that upsets our mind and body’s equilibrium.  Certainly, listening to the global reports of violence and tragedy qualifies as stress.  Did you know however, that not all stressors are negative?  Even positive events such as having a new baby or starting a new job can be just as stressful as dealing with illness or traumatic events.  

So, how does it work? The perceived stressor causes your body to engage in a stress response. The stress response is an automatic response in our body that triggers a series of inflammatory changes in the body.  The sympathetic nervous system is activated and a stream of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released.  Our heart beats faster, our muscles become tense, our blood pressure rises and we become alert. When this happens multiple times over and over again, it is difficult for our body and mind to settle down.  Getting stuck in this “on” position can cause long term changes to our neurons and immune system, leading to chronic conditions like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue, autoimmune disease and an upset in our mental health.  There is not much you or I can do about the news on tv (other than turn it off), however, you can help support and strenthen your body’s ability to become more resilient and remain calm.  

There are, of course, mind-body practices such as mindfulness meditation that you can do to reduce the stress response.  However, did you know that you can also eat foods that help to calm your mind and body as well?  Many foods have a direct effect on your nervous system, and help the body produce mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters.  

Create your own natural "chill-pill" by adding the following stress-busting foods and nutrients to your plate. 

1. B vitamins  

Found in leafy greens, broccoli, lentils, organic pasture raised chicken, legumes, sunflower seads, nuts, barley, oatmeal, whole grains, organic asian mushrooms and salmon.  

B Vitamins boost the immune system, help maintain regular blood sugar levels to keep energy and mood stable, are are essential for energy production.  B5 also supports the adrenal gland and improves coping mechanisms.  

2. Antioxidants

Found is spices such as cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, clove, and oregano.  Also found in darkly colored fruits and veggies like blueberries, raspberries and tomatoes.  

Antioxidants help reduce free radicals (toxic chemicals produced when under stress), which cause damage to the body and increase the aging process.

3.   Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Healthy Fats

Found in fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, trout, mackerel and halibut.  Also found in nuts such as walnuts, cashews and seeds such as flax and pumpkin seeds.  Nut and seed oils are also an important source of healthy fats along with avocado, olives and olive oil.

Omega- 3 fatty acids help nerve cells communicate well with each other.  This supports good mental health. Healthy fats also help reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels.   

4. Magnesium

Found in sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, salmon, shrimp, oysters, seaweed, avocado, almonds and brazil nuts.  Also found in whole grains and leafy greens

Magnesium, sometimes called the original "chill pill", is an important nutrient for assisting in the relaxation response.  Our magnesium levels can drop, the more stressed we become.  

5. Folate (also a B-vitamin)  

Found in leafy greens such as collards, spinach, swiss chard and kale.  Also found in avocado and asparagus.

Folate helps with nerve transmission, and production of “happy hormones” like serotonin.  

 

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Traveling This Summer?  Here Are 6 Ways to Stay Healthy So You Can Focus On the Fun.

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Traveling This Summer? Here Are 6 Ways to Stay Healthy So You Can Focus On the Fun.

I am well versed in traveling.  I grew up overseas and my father had two months of paid vacation every year.  Imagine that!  We would hop on a plane and travel to India, Europe and the US for almost the entire summer.  I have memories of getting ill many times while traveling as a child, but don’t recall dealing with constipation, fatigue, ankle swelling and bloating.  I don’t remember thinking much about drinking water, trying to get exercise and paying attention to what I eat.  Alas, everything changes with age.  Gone are the days of eating the bag of blue corn tortilla chips on a jetblue flight across country or drinking a cup of tomato juice because it just taste so good at 30,000 feet high (there is actually science behind why it taste better high up).  I now think mindfully about preparing my body prior to travel and the choices I make while traveling.  I’ve found that sticking with these 5 things keeps me at my best so I can enjoy my experience of traveling and recover quickly when I get home.

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